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Are you making the most of your plastics?

automotive plastic components
Plastics are used extensivley on modern vehicles and some hold significant value. Is now the time to take a hard look at potential returns?
Automotive plastics from end of life vehicles have always offered the potential of financial reward but have never actually made the grade. Is that about to change?

Recently, we have had more interest from plastics recyclers regarding scrap plastics than we can recall in many years so we thought it was time to ask a few questions and automotive plastics recycler, Jonathan Weston of PPR Wipag gave us some answers.

Before you get too excited, there is still an awful lot of plastic in a vehicle that you can’t get a return on but with bumpers fetching anything up to £200 per tonne, this is a potential revenue stream worth considering - but it’s not only bumpers. Wheel trims, which are usually made from nylon are also worthwhile as are wheel arch liners. Washer bottles are also a good pure form of plastic (usually blown polythene) and many of these items can easily be removed and dropped in a stillage.

Unfortunately, wings and other body panels tend to be made from Noryl which there is no market for currently but developments are happening all the time. PPR Wipag’s, Jonathan Weston explains. “Much of the recyclate from vehicles will return to the car makers to go back into the loop. With the pressure on manufacturers to constantly improve the volume of the vehicle that can be re-used and recycled, it’s easy to appreciate the push being undertaken by the plastics industry to improve the ease and efficiency that these products can go back into the system”. He added, “it is these developments that now make it cost effective to collect and recycle a greater number those parts".

Many polymers used in current automotive production are glass filled to increase strength, stiffness and heat stability. Most of these polymers are very recyclable as long as the polymer types are not mixed but there needs to be sufficient volumes to justify the recovery processes.

It isn’t all plain sailing and many large items are still not recyclable and more work and understanding is needed. An example he used was the front end assembly on modern cars. The difficulty with recycling front end modules is that some manufactures are using polypropylene and some are using nylon, and the difference isn’t that easy to distinguish by the 'untrained' eye. Mix them up and you have a big problem!

Another future headache from the plastic processors perspective will be the ever increasing use of carbon fibre and specialist materials within electric drive trains. Thermosetting plastic, those which are formed from a chemical reaction such as carbon fibre offer major challenges as you cannot return them back to their original material.
So what about now?
As we mentioned above, there are a number of plastics that the plastics recycler is interested in and they do have a value. Presentation, from the dismantler’s standpoint can often put one off. The big difference between metals and plastics is weight so baling is a must to increase density and due to the ‘springiness’ of plastics the bales must be tied. This in itself is not such a great issue as there are plenty of suitable balers on the market. The issue is one of cost as these balers aren’t really suitable for other materials in the yard. This means spending a lot of money to bale a material that although has value, can quickly become marginal or negative when machinery and labour costs are added in to the equation.

There are ways around this. For example, there may be a friendly local paper recycler who may let you use his baler for a fee, or a few dismantlers could share the cost within a region, or perhaps a plastics recycler could operate a truck mounted unit. There are ways around the issue which should then turn plastics into a profit line for the dismantler. The easiest way forward in the short term is to have a chat to the plastics recyclers and see what can be agreed.

If you want to contact Jonathan Weston at PPR WIPAG, then you can call him on 01304 219555 or info@pprwipag.com.

Here at atfPro, we would be interested to hear any developments or experiences from readers.

August 2014

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